Keeping Kids Engaged

Whether parents want to admit it or not, kids have an influence over what is purchased in the household.  From snacks to clothing brands—kids have preferences, and they make their parents fully aware of those preferences which can influence household purchasing behavior.   As a result, kids play a pivotal role in the consumer marketplace, which also makes them an essential demographic for brands to include in their research.

At the same time, kids are one of the more difficult audiences to conduct research with.  One aspect of youth research that can be difficult for agencies to navigate is keeping kids engaged and active during a research project, particularly longer engagements such as live qualitative interviews. 

At Touchstone, we have been conducting qualitative research with kids for over 30 years.  During that time, we have developed successful strategies for maintaining child engagement and interest.  In this article, we share several of our strategies for maintaining child engagement during qualitative research studies—from recruitment through live sessions.

Utilize interactive and fun screening methods:  Children engage best with interactive and visually appealing activities. When screening children for research studies, it is helpful to provide visuals where possible such as photos or videos in the screening survey to keep them engaged. Employing creative “homework” assignments such as drawings or storytelling can help recruitment teams gain a deeper understanding of the child’s thoughts and feelings, while also making the research experience enjoyable for the child.

Simplify language: It is essential to speak directly with the child during the screening process to ensure that they can communicate effectively with the research team. When conducting phone interviews, frame questions in clear and concise language that is appropriate for the child’s age group. Avoid using jargon or complex terminology that may confuse them. By framing questions using age-appropriate language, children can provide more accurate and meaningful responses. This helps recruiters obtain a clear understanding of each child’s level of articulation and engagement, which enables the recruitment team to select participants that best fit each project’s unique research needs.

Establish a safe and inclusive space: Throughout the recruitment and research process, create an environment where children feel comfortable expressing their opinions without fear of judgment. Encourage open dialogue, active listening, and respect for children’s perspectives. Foster a culture of inclusivity that welcomes children from different backgrounds, experiences, and abilities.

Conduct tech checks:  When conducting sessions remotely, effective tech checks are instrumental in fostering child engagement during qualitative research sessions. Serving as a valuable “warm-up” to the main research session, tech checks confirm that the child is situated in a distraction-free setting and address any technical challenges the child may be facing, ensuring a seamless experience. Learn more about TSR’s Tech check process here.

Use icebreakers and friendly conversation: Throughout the recruitment and research process, it is crucial that children feel safe and excited to engage in conversation. When conducting phone interviews or tech checks, research staff should utilize icebreakers and other friendly conversation starters to set the tone for an open line of communication between the child and research team. Some examples of conversation starters include asking children about their favorite television show or video game, or what kinds of sports and activities they enjoy. This approach helps the recruitment team build rapport with participants and creates a comfortable atmosphere that encourages children to freely express their thoughts and ideas in preparation for the research session.

Maintain age-appropriate session schedules: Compared to adults, children tend to have shorter windows of availability as they are in school or participating in other activities for most of the day. It is essential that recruitment teams conduct interviews outside of school hours. Recruitment teams should also avoid scheduling sessions too early in the morning or too late in the evening, as children may be tired at those times. Conducting interviews and session times during age-appropriate hours allows the research team to obtain accurate insights without overwhelming or fatiguing children.

Promote parental involvement: Include parents or guardians throughout the research process to ensure transparency, address any concerns, and reinforce ethical considerations. Oftentimes, children may have questions about the research process, but they do not know when or how to ask these questions. Including parents in the research process allows them to ask questions on behalf of their child every step of the way. For younger children in the preschool age range, it is beneficial to involve parents in the research session. Researchers can ask parents questions similar to those that they are asking the child. This turns the parent into a “model” for their child and helps them feel more comfortable engaging with the researcher. When conducting research with older kids, you can keep parents involved by speaking with them at the start of the research session to make sure all questions and concerns are addressed. By involving parents, you not only gain valuable insights but also strengthen the trust and support of families, further enhancing the overall research experience.

For additional tips and tricks on maintaining child engagement in qualitative research sessions, check out our article Unlocking the Wonder Years here.


Children play a key role in families’ purchase decisions. By employing child-friendly strategies, companies can create a sustainable environment for child participation in market research and leverage these insights to shape the future of consumer culture. Here at Touchstone Research, we strive to amplify youth voices to facilitate the development of products and services that better serve the needs and aspirations of children.